Lost: NIU’s defensive pressure

By Chris Dertz

AMES, IOWA | To the casual observer, last Thursday’s season opener for NIU football may have looked pretty simple. A MAC team looked generally out-matched and couldn’t keep up with a deceptively talented Iowa State team.

But preseason expectations for NIU were high, and with good reason.

This is why what I saw at Jack Trice Stadium, especially on NIU’s defense, was concerning. The idea of pressure seemed completely lost on them.

The Huskies’ strongest unit on either side of the ball has long been considered the defensive line. It was extremely surprising to see just how much the line struggled to get any sort of pressure on Cyclone quarterback Austen Arnaud.

Arnaud had all day and all night to throw, which allowed him to pick apart NIU’s secondary to the tune of 265 passing yards.

Even more concerning was the pre-snap setup of NIU’s defensive backs on the outside. It’s something that NIU has been doing for much of the past two seasons, and has baffled me the entire time: The cornerbacks and safeties will line up 10 yards off of the opposition’s wideouts.

Arnaud and his receivers exploited this constantly against NIU. All the quarterback had to do was drop back two steps and chuck the ball to one of his receivers and they had an automatic 6 or 7-yard gain.

This is confusing because NIU has the athletes in the secondary to be able to pressure wideouts in the outside and play them tight. It’s a matter of scheme: If you have the athleticism to put pressure on the receivers, then why would you continue to play 10 yards off and concede those yards?

Pressure, both on the quarterback and receivers, is what was missing from NIU’s defense on Thursday night. The absence of pressure on the outside has been there for the better part of the past two seasons. They can play tight on the outside: Why don’t they?